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The original item was published from 7/22/2016 10:22:41 AM to 7/22/2016 10:23:13 AM.

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City of Ithaca News

Posted on: July 7, 2016

[ARCHIVED] Update on Water Discoloration in City Water and Results of Lead Testing at City Facilities

As reported earlier this week, the City of Ithaca has been receiving reports of discolored water from across the city. There have also been isolated reports of “musty smelling” water. The City Water and Sewer Division has been working with engineers to optimize the treatment processes at the water plant to eliminate these issues and has been consulting with State and County Health Department officials, who have shared information from other communities facing similar problems. The City is sharing data and test results and updating the County Health Department on a daily basis regarding water treatment adjustments. Our monitoring indicates that conditions are improving and we will continue to make adjustments until the problems are resolved.

There are several causes to the recent discoloration and odors in the City water supply:
1. Warmer water dissolves more minerals than cooler water. As the water warms, it dissolves the iron and manganese and calcium that is deposited on the inside of water pipes throughout the city. Iron can give the water a red-brown color. Additionally, the combination of iron and manganese and warm water can create a musty odor.

2. Due to the lack of rain, a higher proportion of the water flowing into the reservoir is due to groundwater rather than surface runoff. Groundwater has higher concentrations of iron and manganese.

3. The new water plant uses membrane filtration, a different treatment process than the old plant. The water treatment processes are still being optimized to address the particulars of our water source and water distribution system.
Water and Sewer Division crews have been out flushing hydrants to clear the discolored water from the system.

Residents should run the COLD water in their homes to flush their household pipes until the water appears clear.

Separate from the recent color and odor issues, and in response to concerns raised earlier this year about lead in the water supplies at local area schools, the City of Ithaca sampled plumbing fixtures in all City owned facilities. Results of testing for both Stewart and Cass Parks were reviewed this week. The City learned that samples from two drinking fountains and an ice machine at Cass Park and three drinking fountains at Stewart Park contained lead concentrations above the action level of 15 parts per billion (ppb). There were also high lead levels detected in samples from a number of hose bibs and bathroom lavatories. The City has shared the results with the Health Department and will be retesting these fixtures under more “typical” conditions. It is likely that the water sampled from the parks had sat for a long period of time because the samples were taken in May, at the end of a period of low water usage.

Until resampling has occurred and the results show normal levels and/or the old piping and fixtures are replaced, the City has removed the fountains and ice machine from service and will be directing people to alternative drinking water sources. The sinks and hose bibs will be labeled with signs indicating that the water should not be used for drinking.

After earlier test results indicated elevated levels of lead at plumbing fixtures in several other City facilities, the Water and Sewer Division collected water samples at the water treatment plant and at water storage tanks throughout the water distribution system. Those samples did not show any evidence of lead. This indicates that the lead found in the water samples from Cass and Stewart Parks and other City facilities is attributable to older plumbing fixtures or piping installed when lead-containing solder was allowed for use in joining pipes.

In the initial round of testing, there were elevated levels of lead detected in a bathroom sink in City Hall, in exterior hose bibs at GIAC and the Youth Bureau, and at several locations at the Ithaca Police Department. The faucet in City Hall was replaced, and the hose bibs at GIAC and the Youth Bureau are neither accessible to the public nor used for anything related to youth programs. Fixtures at the Ithaca Police Department, which are not accessible to the general public, will be taken out of service or appropriately labeled until the problems can be resolved.

The water test results can be found at the link below.

Every three years the City is required to perform testing for lead and copper in the water system by taking samples at a number of houses throughout the city. The most recent round of testing was performed in 2015 ( and the next round of testing will be required in 2018. However, because of the new water treatment process and to be extra cautious, the City is going to repeat the testing for lead and copper this year. Those tests will be taken over the next few months and the results will be made public as soon as they are available.

For more information on these issues, please contact Chief of Staff Dan Cogan at

Water Testing Results from Microbac
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